I just finished watching the BBC’s money programme on hip-hop/rapper and ex-drug-dealer 50 cent and his rise from medicority to worldwide global icon through his many record sales and his “G-Unit” business, which has turned 50 Cent is a brand in his own right.
The world’s biggest brands are associating themselves with 50 Cent and other gangsters, but as the money programme correctly identified, the move is seen as very risky. Firstly, brands such as Reebok are associating themselves with ex-convicts but worse than that is the condoning of violence, drug-smuggling/dealing and shooting people, or doing anything to get to the top.
I don’t claim to understand 50 cent, or the hip-hop culture. But on a basic marketing level, the whole concept is brilliantly executed (or, if you’re deeply cynical, just a very well wrapped up ploy to extract cash from kids)…. each brand promotes and markets the other products, and those promote others, it’s sort of doing it’s own automated referral system.
Pushing it to the limit, and the paradox of hip-hop
Some rappers, like 50 cent often refer to the idea of “pushing it to the limit” (a reference to Scarface, starring Al Pacino); where the whole ethos of gangster rap works side-by-side with the business model for enterprise.
But this raises the question of the paradox of hip-hop. If by wrapping yourself into a business model, aren’t hip-hop artists in danger of just becoming another business, another brand who’s product is the glamourisation of violence, thuggery and the unobtainable life of a “gangster”?
Another paradox also haunts the whole gangsta lifestyle — surely the ones who rap themselves up in expensive, ultra-chic clothes/cars, etc and sing about how hard life is/was for them cannot easily and readily connect with people at the very bottom?
The constant need to keep it real
A lot of time, money and effort goes into branding a hip-hop artist into a business entreprenuer, but why is there a need by their peers to “keep it real”? Well, hip-hop is about talking about life on the street, and that’s why some people feel uncomfortable when they see hip-hop stars such as 50 cent utilising it as a marketing ploy…
I’m not actually sure what keeping it real means, does that mean you must keep to the social ladder you acquired and that one cannot better themselves, or that in order to achieve one must acquire, accept and request constant plaudits from peers, friends, and enemies alike?
Either way, the marketing of the unobtainable by verse of street-hip-hop communicates to a generation that is unreachable to today’s society, and although many people may fear the branding of hip-hop, I can’t fault it on a purely marketing and business standing.
There are some great ideas that 50 cent is doing in terms of publicity, but whether I’d want to buy his products I think I’ll say no thanks, I just don’t feel comfortable buying, wearing or eating 50 cent endorsed products… it’s just not in me, sorry!